Is This Necessary?

John McCaslin
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Posted: Feb 10, 2009 10:06 AM
Is This Necessary?

Back in 2004, before fuel prices skyrocketed and the country spiraled into economic crisis, the Air Force estimated it cost $56,800 per hour to operate Air Force One.

In 2006, when reporting on the exorbitant cost of presidential travel, this columnist figured that former President George W. Bush's quick, 22-minute flight between Washington and Philadelphia cost taxpayers $30,000, give or take a few grand.

Now, with millions of Americans out of work, banks failing by the day, and Wall Street fluctuating like the pulse of a caffeine-induced heart patient, President Obama late last week took his first-ever ride as commander in chief aboard the mighty 747 jumbo jet called Air Force One, flying to nearby Williamsburg, Va., to deliver after-dinner remarks to the Democratic congressional retreat.

His maiden voyage from Andrews Air Force Base to the Virginia Colonial town lasted all of 31 minutes in the air.

Just that week, when interviewed on "The NBC Nightly News," Mr. Obama declared: "If the taxpayers are helping you, then you have certain responsibilities to not be living high on the hog."

"What do you think about this spiffy ride?" Mr. Obama had asked reporters during the flight. "It's not bad."

Later that evening, he added to laughter from the Democrats eating their dessert 155 miles from Capitol Hill (given the penny-pinching, the Democrats might have considered reserving a ballroom here in Washington), Mr. Obama said: "Thank you for giving me a reason to use Air Force One. It's pretty nice."

The president began this week by flying on Air Force One to Indiana, to describe for residents of Elkhart his "commitment to put aside politics as usual" by implementing a plan to create jobs and grow the economy. (Mr. Obama could have been more sincere by addressing the group via video hookup, equating it to the "change" he promised and saving taxpayers the several hundred thousand dollars that Monday's trip cost us.)

Before he died, columnist William F. Buckley Jr. recalled Mr. Bush telling Americans that they should "consider driving less in order to save fuel." Yet the president continued jetting off to conferences and banquets in Florida and Kentucky and Michigan and Texas, burning 6,000 gallons of Air Force One fuel per hour.

"Indefensible hypocrisy," Inside the Beltway reader Roger Johnson writes in a letter this week, responding in part to our earlier item about Senate Democrats renting high-end space three blocks from the U.S. Capitol last week to hold a day-long retreat.

"We don't like automakers flying on private jets, we don't want Citibank to buy a new jet, we don't want others (Wells Fargo) to have retreats, and on and on; we want other executives and people to sacrifice," notes Mr. Johnson.

Speaking aboard Air Force One en route to Indiana, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs insisted that the costly trip was not to explain "to Indiana what's going on in Washington."

"This is taking Washington to show them what's going on in Indiana, and all over the country, and how people are hurting."

Today, Air Force One has flown Mr. Obama to Florida.

BEN, LEN AND ALL

One might name the exclusive after-party of the National Press Foundation Awards dinner at the Washington Hilton tonight "Dance the Deficit Away."

Consider that the featured band's name is "Andy Sullivan and His Stimulus Package."

Before we get to the journalism honorees, we might note that Mr. Sullivan toils for Reuters news agency by day, and plays guitar and sings vocals by night. And talk about good company.

Saxophonist Chris Watling has played everywhere from Wolf Trap to the Kennedy Center with roots-rock stalwarts the Grandsons, amassing a fistful of awards for his instrumental and compositional prowess. He's worked with a long list of R&B titans that includes Ben E. King, Lloyd Price, the Spinners and Carla Thomas, as well as local country favorites Last Train Home.

Bassist Jeff Muller has appeared throughout the U.S. and Europe with more than 60 musical acts, including Eva Cassidy, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Allen Toussaint and Grammy award-winner Cyril Neville. Drummer Matt Tebo holds down a regular Wednesday gig at Tryst in Adams Morgan with the jazz combo Lovesome Thing.

Otherwise, among NPF's 2009 honorees, the Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism will be presented to Charles Gibson of ABC News, while fittingly, the Benjamin C. BradleeEditor of the Year Award will go to Leonard Downie Jr., who recently retired as executive editor of The Washington Post, having assumed the title from Mr. Bradlee in 1991.